Sunday, May 26, 2013


The Co-operative Republic of Guyana, a former British colony situated on the northeast coast of South America, will celebrate 47 years of independence from British colonial rule on May 26, 2013. On May 26th, 1966 Guyana (formerly British Guiana) gained its political independence. British Guiana has also been known as “the land of many waters” and “the land of six people” (Africans, Amerindians, Chinese, East Indians, Europeans and Portuguese) with the nine groups of Amerindians being the indigenous people of the land. The petroglyphs found near Kurupukari in the Iwokrama rainforest in Guyana prove that Guyana’s indigenous people (Arawaks, Arecunas, Akawaios, Caribs, Macushis, Patamonas, Wapisianas, Warraus and Wai-Wais) have lived on the South American continent since at least 5000 BCE.
The history books tell us that Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to sight the Guianas in 1498 (Guyanese scholar and historian Ivan Van Sertima in his 1976 published “They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America” wrote that there was an African presence in the Americas before Columbus.) Columbus was quickly followed by other Europeans searching for El Dorado the golden city. They never did find the golden city but many Europeans became rich on the coerced, unpaid labour of enslaved Africans. The Dutch were the first European colonizers of the 83,000 square miles (214,970 sq. km) of flat coastland, hilly sand and clay belt, vast rainforests and savannah. Beginning with the Dutch who colonized the Essequibo region when they established their first settlement on the Pomeroon River in 1581 Europeans exploited first the native people who they unsuccessfully tried to enslave, then the Africans. The native people being on familiar territory fled into the interior of the country unlike the Africans who were thousands of miles away from Africa and unfamiliar with the South American terrain. In 1616, Dutch traders established a trading post 25 kilometers upstream from the mouth of the Essequibo River. In 1627, the Dutch West India Company established a colony on the Berbice River, southeast of Essequibo. Demerara, situated between Essequibo and Berbice, was settled in 1741. Although under the general jurisdiction of the Dutch West India Company, the three colonies of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo were governed separately. The colonies changed hands several times as the European colonizers battled each other in various tribal wars. In 1814 the Dutch were forced to cede the three colonies of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo to the British after the Treaty of Paris was signed during the Congress of Vienna (November 1, 1814 - June 8, 1815) which was the official end to the European tribal warfare of that time. Austria, Britain, Prussia and Russia met secretly to divide the spoils of Napoleon’s Empire. In 1831 the British unified the three colonies to become British Guiana.
The Napoleonic Wars had seen various European tribes (Austrians, Belgians, British, Dutch, Germans, Italians, Portuguese, Prussians, Russians, Spanish, Swedes and Swiss) making and breaking alliances (1793-1815) as they battled with each other over territories in Europe and elsewhere, including Africa, North and South America. Incidentally while Napoleon’s army was wreaking havoc in Europe, they were defeated by the Africans who had been enslaved by the French in Haiti. Led by Toussaint L’Overture the Africans drove the French out of Haiti and seized their freedom and independence on January 1, 1804.
The British continued the Dutch legacy of slavery in their new South American colony before slavery was abolished by the British Parliament on August 23, 1833 to become law on August 1, 1834. The abolition of slavery did not entirely free the Africans, who had been enslaved their entire lives; the slaveholders persuaded the British government to institute a period of apprenticeship for the Africans. Although they had been paid reparations for the loss of their “property,” the plantation owners who had benefited from the forced, unpaid labour of the enslaved Africans were reluctant to allow their captives to leave the plantations. The apprenticeship period was used to further enrich the White British plantation owners and impoverish the Africans. The apprentices were forced to continue working on the plantations of their former “owners” for seven and a half hours a day or 45 hours a week. Any work over 45 hours a week was supposed to be paid work. Many plantation owners resorted to acts of trickery, treachery and coercion to avoid paying the Africans wages due for overtime work. This was to ensure that the plantation owners were provided with free labour even after slavery was abolished and this caused a few incidents of “rebellion.”
With widespread rebellion among the Africans in some other British colonies including the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Trinidad, the apprenticeship period, which was expected to last 6 years until 1840, came to an end on August 1, 1838. No longer compelled to work on the plantations of their former owners, there was an exodus of Africans from the plantations. The Africans organized groups of 60 to 70, pooled their money and bought abandoned plantations. They divided the land into lots where each person had a house lot and farmland. The maintenance of the village drainage and irrigation system was the responsibility of the collective. The members of these villages (mostly established between 1838 and 1852) democratically elected leaders and organized communities which still exist. Not all the Africans had saved enough money to be a part of the exodus and so were forced to remain on the plantations where they had been enslaved. These workers could now demand wages and, while some plantation owners grudgingly paid, others attempted to coerce the Africans into continuing a slave-like existence by expecting the Africans to work for no wages simply because they continued to live on plantation land. The unpaid work of the Africans for their entire lives should have made them owners of that land.
After the Emancipation Act was passed in 1833, the White plantation owning class had anticipated that once the act became law Africans would exit the places where they had been enslaved and that there would be a labour shortage. Some of them began to look for an alternative labour force by recruiting indentured labourers, beginning in 1835 when Portuguese labourers arrived from Madeira. The first group of Chinese labourers arrived in 1885. The largest group of indentured labourers to go to British Guiana, first arriving on May 5, 1838, was South Asians from the Indian subcontinent of whom the majority originally from Calcutta were mostly Hindu although approximately 16 per cent were Muslim. The indentureship period lasted from three to seven years before the labourers were free to leave the plantations to which they were indentured with a guaranteed return passage to their homeland at the end of their contract. The plantation owners encouraged the retention of Hinduism and Islam by helping with the building of mosques and temples to persuade the labourers and their families to remain on the estates after their indentureship period. Some of them returned home but many remained and their descendants help to make up the Guyanese mosaic today.
British Guiana was sometimes referred to as “Bookers Guiana” because of the stranglehold on the economy of the British business firm, “Booker Brothers, McConnell & Company,” popularly known as “Bookers.” The company which had its beginning when Josias Booker arrived in the colony (from Britain) to work as the manager of a cotton plantation in 1815 was formally established in 1834 as “Booker Brothers & Company” and held a monopoly on the economy of British Guiana by the end of the 1800s. Bookers history is inextricably linked to Britain’s slave holding and imperialist past. When the “Congress of Vienna” divided the northeast coast of South America among Great Britain, the Netherlands and France in 1815, merchants from those countries quickly began to exploit the region's natural resources and African labour. The Booker brothers (Josias, George, and Richard) were part of this group who between 1815 and 1834 bought plantations and established merchant trading houses in Liverpool to exploit the flourishing sugar and rum trade. In 1834 they established “Booker Brothers & Co.” in British Guiana and bought their first transport ship the “Elizabeth” in 1835. In 1854, Josias Booker junior (eldest son of Josias senior) and John McConnell (who had worked as a clerk for the Bookers since 1846) created a new partnership which they named the “Demerara Company.” With the deaths of the remaining Booker Brothers (Josias senior in 1865) and George in 1866, Josias junior and John McConnell assumed control of all the Booker properties, including the sugar plantations and trading companies in Britain and South America. Milton Moskowitz writes in his 1987 published book “The Global Marketplace” that the Bookers Brothers company "became the principal shopkeepers of the colony," building a formidable trade during the late 19th century. Their "Liverpool Line," established in 1887, became one of the top shipping links between South America and Europe.
Today in the Guyana of the 21st century, independent for 47 years the British exploiters have gone but it seems there is a new group. The news that has been coming out of Guyana recently speaks of companies like Bosai Minerals Group (China) and RUSAL Bauxite Inc. (Russia) exploiting the mineral wealth and the people of Guyana. As recently as April, 2013 a group of Amerindians were protesting their exploitation by RUSAL. After 47 years how independent is Guyana? What will the people of Guyana be celebrating on May 26, 2013?

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I send you with this letter a declaration which will acquaint you with the unity that exists between the proprietors of San Domingo who are in France, those in the United States, and those who serve under the English banner. You will see there a resolution, unequivocal and carefully constructed, for the restoration of slavery; you will see there that their determination to succeed has led them to envelop themselves in the mantle of liberty in order to strike it more deadly blows. You will see that they are counting heavily on my complacency in lending myself to their perfidious views by my fear for my children. It is not astonishing that these men who sacrifice their country to their interests are unable to conceive how many sacrifices a true love of country can support in a better father than they, since I unhesitatingly base the happiness of my children on that of my country, which they and they alone wish to destroy. Blind as they are! They cannot see how this odious conduct on their part can become the signal of new disasters and irreparable misfortunes, and that far from making them regain what in their eyes liberty for all has made them lose, they expose themselves to a total ruin and the colony to its inevitable destruction. Do they think that men who have been able to enjoy the blessing of liberty will calmly see it snatched away? They supported their chains only so long as they did not know any condition of life more happy than that of slavery. But to-day when they have left it, if they had a thousand lives they would sacrifice them all rather than be forced into slavery again. Excerpt from Toussaint L’Ouverture’s “Letter to the Directory, November 5, 1797,” published in “The Black Jacobins” by C. L. R. James 1963
Fran├žois Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture was an enslaved African born on May 20, 1743 on the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue (Haiti.) He is recognized as one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution. The Africans who were enslaved in Haiti by a group of French men and women were the only group of Africans who seized and maintained their freedom from chattel slavery. They declared their independence on January 1, 1804 after years of armed struggle against European forces beginning in August 1891. L’Ovuverture choose his last name sometime in 1793. He used the last name L’Overture for the first time when he wrote a letter dated August 29, 1793 in which he encouraged enslaved Africans to unite: “Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in St Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers, and fight with us for the same cause. Your very humble and obedient servant, Toussaint L'Ouverture.” He had carried the last name Breda at birth because like enslaved Africans everywhere he was given the name of his enslavers who owned the Breda plantation where he was born.
In 1797 when he wrote his “Letter to the Directory” L’Ouverture was 54 years old and had been free for about 4 years. For a man who had been enslaved for most of his life it was an extraordinary achievement to be able to read and write. In every society where Africans were enslaved by White men and women literacy was not encouraged for the enslaved Africans and in some places (USA) being literate was a death sentence for an enslaved African. L’Ouverture’s letter referred to the people who were determined to re-enslave the Africans in Haiti who had been freed by the French Revolutionary government on February 4, 1794. Of course this declaration on paper that the enslaved Africans on plantations owned by French men and women were free did not happen because these White people suddenly had an epiphany that enslaving other humans was wrong. They were forced to declare an abolition of slavery because the Africans in Haiti had seized their freedom three years earlier in 1791.
In 1789 when the revolutionaries in France proclaimed the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen" they did not care about the freedom or rights of enslaved Africans whose coerced labour made France one of the richest European countries of the time. Haiti was France’s “Pearl of thee Antilles.” The late Guyanese scholar and historian Walter Rodney in his 1973 published book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” included a quote from a presentation made in 1791 by Cardinal Maury, a member of the French National Assembly who urged the French National Assembly to maintain slavery in the French colonies: “If you were to lose each year more than 200 million livres that you now get from your colonies; if you had not the exclusive trade with your colonies to feed your manufactures, to maintain your navy, to keep your agriculture going, to repay for your imports, to provide for your luxury needs, to advantageously balance your trade with Europe and Asia, then I say it clearly, the kingdom would be irretrievably lost. Bishop Maury (of France): Argument against France’s ending the slave trade and giving freedom to its slave colonies. Presented in the French National Assembly, 1791.”
The French Revolutionary government seized power from the French monarchy and the aristocracy and declared France a republic in September 1792, murdering their king the following year. After a blood bath popularly known as the Reign of Terror (5 September 1793 – 28 July 1794) where French men and women marched their fellow citizens to the guillotine to be slaughtered by the tens of thousands the bloodthirsty citizens settled down and turned their attention once again to the colonies. With the fighting and killing in France White people did not have time to take care of business in the colonies but they had no intention of losing all that unpaid labour that was provided by Africans. After dispatching tens of thousands of their tribe via the guillotine the French led by a Corsican (Napoleon Bonaparte) once more turned their covetous eyes to the riches of Haiti.
Bonaparte drunk with power after defeating much of Europe declared himself Emperor of France even though he was not French. He then tried to retake Haiti from the Africans who had taken their freedom and established their independence as a nation. The French had reneged on their declaration of freedom for enslaved Africans and had re-enslaved Africans in their colonies. Under Napoleon’s rule the French passed a law on May 20, 1802 revoking the law passed on February 4, 1794 which had abolished slavery in the French colonies. On June 7, 1802 Bonaparte’s general LeClerc captured L’Overture after deceiving him by inviting him to a meeting with an offering to negotiate. Le Clerc realizing that he could not defeat the Africans led by L’Overture pretended to be willing to negotiate with L’Overture as the leader of his people. On June 15, 1802 L’Overture and his family were transported to France on board the French ship Le Heros. On his arrival in France L’Overture was imprisoned and on April 7, 1803 he transitioned to join the ancestors, a victim of his belief in the non-existent honour of Bonaparte and the French. Today the name Toussaint L’Ouverture is fairly well known as Haiti’s liberator.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


"In a way I had never quite comprehended before, I realized the role I could play in court and the possibilities before me as a defendant. I was the symbol of justice in the court of the oppressor, the representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness and democracy in a society that dishonoured those virtues. I realized then and there that I could carry on the fight even in the fortress of the enemy." From “The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” published in 1995
On May 2, 1994 following a three day election (April 26-28) the results of South Africa's first legitimate, democratic election were declared and Nelson Mandela was acknowledged the new leader of South Africa even though his inauguration was 8 days later on May 10, 1994. Born Nkosi Rolihlala Dalibhunga Mandela on July 18, 1918 he was assigned the European name “Nelson” on his first day of school when he was 7 years old. Renaming racialised people is a common practice of European colonizer culture. Mandela was born a member of the royal family of the Thembu in Mvezo, a village in the district of Mthatha which was the capital of the former Transkei (one of the several “homelands” established by a White supremacist settler society) and now part of the Eastern Cape Province. In his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” published in 1995 Mandela gives a history of the Thembu and his life including his place in the royal household. A dispute with a White official stripped Mandela’s father of his title, status and ability to maintain a reasonably comfortable standard of living and part of the family was forced to relocate to a larger village Qunu where Mandela lived for much of his childhood. That was an early lesson on the power the Whites had seized from the Africans on African land. The Whites who meandered onto African land after they fled the tribalism (White men in Europe were constantly at each others throats fighting like cats and dogs over disputed territory) of Europe beginning in the 17th century in short order stole African land savagely murdering those Africans who resisted. The history of the covetousness and bold face thievery of the White men and women who left Europe to “settle” on African land is well documented. Although this bunch of refugees/opportunists sometimes included “religious” personnel who made a show of being concerned about the “immortal souls” of Africans and wanting to convert them to a European version of Christianity somehow that concern never seemed to include the “immortal souls” of their thieving and murdering White kin. Those Africans who converted were afforded some degree of privilege by the Whites who used this tried and true European colonizer method to divide and conquer the Africans.
For three hundred years White people in the country they seized from Africans and named South Africa (the British wrested control of the country from the Dutch in 1902 and named it the Union of South Africa in 1910) employed a method of violent repression to control the Africans. Mandela who became the first democratically elected President of the nation was one of millions of Africans who struggled (some spent their entire lives in the struggle) to untie the stranglehold of European domination and repression of the rightful owners of the land. Africans resisted White domination in South Africa from the moment they realised that this was not just a group of interesting visitors to their land but instead a group intent on disinheriting Africans and stealing their land. African people consistently resisted their dispossession by the White interlopers.
In 1994 that struggle bore fruit when for three days every adult citizen in the South African country had the opportunity to vote to elect their government. After more than three centuries of White minority misrule Africans in this African country had the right to choose their government. The right to vote after not having that right for their whole adult life encouraged Africans to go out to the polls in unprecedented numbers. At that time South Africa had a reported population of 5 million White people and 30 million Africans yet no African had been “privileged” to vote in a general election before 1994. It is little wonder that on April 26 Africans began lining up at polling stations in the pre-dawn hours for the opportunity of a lifetime that citizens of most other countries took for granted; the right to vote. Elderly Africans even those suffering ill health lined up for hours to cast their ballot. They arrived at polling stations in wheel chairs, some with the aid of crutches or canes and some carried in the arms of relatives. The children’s book “The Day Gogo Went to Vote: South Africa, 1994” by Elinor Batezat Sisulu published in 1996 tells the story of a 100 year-old great grandmother who went to vote accompanied by her family including her 6 year old great grand-daughter Thembi. The book was inspired by Sisulu’s experience working at a polling station during the 1994 election. The 100 year-old African great-grandmother in the story is considered too frail to leave the yard which she had not done in many years. Her relatives fearing that she would not survive the trip to the polling station try to discourage her and her question: "You want me to die not having voted?" speaks to the determination of many elderly Africans to go out to vote maybe for the first and last time in their lives. Africans patiently lined up for hours from “dawn till dusk” to cast their ballots for the first time. There was even a feel good story published on April 24 in the South African newspaper Sunday Times which included a photograph of Walter Sisulu and a 19 year old White woman both preparing for the election with the caption “The octogenarian and the teenager: Walter Sisulu and Kim Schultz get ready to cast their votes - both for the first time.” The irony of the then almost 82 year old African freedom fighter and senior African National Congress (ANC) member allowed to vote for the first time as was a 19 year old White woman seemed to have escaped the newspaper editor.
It was not all smooth sailing for Africans determined to exercise their right to vote. Groups of Whites tried to derail the process. Intimidation tactics by the White minority included bombings but the Africans were not intimidated and continued lining up to vote. On Friday night, 22 April 1994, a bomb destroyed the Department of Home Affairs offices in Potgietersrus in the Northern Transvaal and an oil pipeline running from the Sasol complex in the northern Orange Free State was damaged by another powerful bomb the same night. A 90 kilogram car bomb killed 9 people and injured 92 in central Johannesburg on Sunday, April 24. On Wednesday, April 27 a car bomb exploded at the Johannesburg Airport injuring 16 people and causing massive structural damage. On the last day of the election Thursday, April 28, police arrested 31 White supremacists in connection with the spate of bombings which killed 21 people and injured 176 in the week leading up to the election. ANC offices, polling stations, taxi ranks and civilian high traffic areas suffered 80 bomb attacks during the 4 months (January-April 1994) leading up to the elections. In the 2005 published book “ Every Step Of The Way: The Journey To Freedom In South Africa” author Michael Morris writes, “Serpentine queues, some stretching for kilometres, showed that, despite the bombs of the past few days, the country’s democratic resolve was in good shape. There was plenty of patience and spirits were high. By the time they voted, many had waited for hours. Most had waited a lifetime.”
Nineteen years, two elections and two presidents later although he only served as president for one term Mandela is still considered elder statesman and South Africa’s leader. He is revered internationally and has received honours from governments, universities and organizations. Mandela who spent 27 years incarcerated by the White supremacist apartheid regime and is one of the more famous political prisoners proved that he could “carry on the fight even in the fortress of the enemy.” Although he was hidden from the public his name alone galvanized international protests against the White supremacist apartheid regime (helped in no small part by his wife Winnie Mandela.) Today at 94 he is carrying on another fight and those who admire the man for various reasons watch anxiously as he goes in and out of hospital for reasons that seem to be connected to his advanced age. What a journey! From his birth in a small village in South Africa under a viciously restrictive regime to a feted world leader! Who can foretell what any child can achieve when they are born? That is why it is important to value all of our children regardless of where or how they were born.


I am a Black revolutionary woman, and because of this i have been charged with and accused of every alleged crime in which a woman was believed to have participated. The alleged crimes in which only men were supposedly involved; i have been accused of planning. They have plastered pictures alleged to be me in post offices, airports, hotels, police cars, subways, banks, television, and newspapers. They have offered over fifty thousand dollars in rewards for my capture and they have issued orders to shoot on sight and shoot to kill. I was sentenced to life plus 30 years by an all-White jury. What I saw in prison was wall-to-wall Black flesh in chains. Women caged in cells. But we're the terrorists. It just doesn't make sense." Excerpt from “Assata: An Autobiography” by Assata Olugbala Shakur published 1987
On May 2, 2013 Assata Olugbala Shakur became the first woman named as a terrorist by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on its “Most Wanted Terrorists” list. The American government through the FBI is offering two million dollars for the capture of Shakur who has lived in Cuba as a political refugee since 1984. Shakur was born on July 16, 1947 in New York City but spent most of her childhood in the White supremacist segregated South (Wilmington, North Carolina) living with her grandparents. As a teenager she moved back to New York where she eventually attended City College of New York (CCNY.) In the late 1960s Shakur became actively involved in the struggle for Black Liberation first as a member of the Black Panther Party and later the Black Liberation Army (BLA.) On May 2, 1973, police (New Jersey State troopers) stopped a car in which Shakur was a passenger on the New Jersey State Turnpike traveling with two companions Zayd Shakur and Sundiata Acoli. During the violent confrontation with police that ensued after the supposed traffic stop a New Jersey trooper Werner Forester and Zayd Shakur were killed. Assata Shakur was shot twice by police during that confrontation and arrested, charged with the murder of Forrester even though she did not fire a gun. On March 25, 1977 she was convicted by an all White jury of killing Forrester and sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years. In 1979 she escaped from jail and fled the United States where she was granted asylum in Cuba sometime between fleeing jail in the US and 1984 when her presence in Cuba was noted by the US government. In 1998 Shakur wrote an open letter to Pope John Paul II ( during his trip to Cuba.
She wrote the letter after the New Jersey state troopers sent the Pope a letter asking him to call for her extradition from Cuba. Shakur’s letter said in part: “I was captured in New Jersey in 1973, after being shot with both arms held in the air, and then shot again from the back. I was left on the ground to die and when I did not, I was taken to a local hospital where I was threatened, beaten and tortured. In 1977 I was convicted in a trial that can only be described as a legal lynching.” During the trial in 1977 three neurologists testified that the first gunshot shattered Shakur’s clavicle and the second shattered the median nerve in her right hand. That testimony proved that she was sitting with her hands raised when she was shot by police. Further testimony proved that no gun residue was found on either of her hands, nor were her fingerprints found on any of the weapons located at the scene. Yet Shakur was convicted by an all-White jury and sentenced to life in prison plus 33 years.
On May 2, 2005, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it was offering a one million dollar bounty for Shakur's capture. Dr. Kathleen Cleaver a former Black Panther member who is a professor at Yale University wrote at that time: “This bounty evokes the memory of those vicious slave catchers who were paid to capture and torment our runaway slave ancestors and return them dead or alive. This extraordinary bounty on the head of a Black woman inevitably brings to mind Harriet Tubman, that Underground Railroad “conductor” whose ability to organize escapes earned a $12,000 price on her head from the state of Maryland. Outraged slave owners added $40,000.” Professor Cleaver in that May 2005 article also gave context to the persecution of Shakur and other African American freedom fighters of that time (1960s - 1970s) when Shakur was arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced: “May 2 of this year, the thirty-second anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike shootout in which State Trooper Werner Foerster and Black Panther Zayd Shakur were killed. Sundiata Acoli and Assata Shakur were arrested for the murders. Assata was severely wounded, shot while her hands were up. She has always insisted—and expert defense testimony from the trial bears it out—that she did not kill anyone. But in separate trials, Sundiata and Assata were convicted of murdering Werner Foerster. In 1979, while incarcerated for life in the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey, Assata escaped. Many freedom fighters I knew and loved, including Eldridge Cleaver, to whom I was married, were arrested and imprisoned because of our membership in the Black Panther Party. Our organization started in response to the gruesome war in Vietnam and the racism and injustice here that drenched our lives in violence. Demonstrations, riots, rampant police brutality and political assassinations marked those years when I witnessed thousands upon thousands of people arrested and hundreds killed. Many turned into fugitives to save their own lives, including my husband, whom I joined in Algeria in May 1969. That was around the same time that Assata, then a bright New York City college student joined the Black Panthers.” Shakur herself has said: "When I was in the Black Panther Party, they (United States) called us terrorists. How dare they call us terrorists when we were being terrorized? Terror was a constant part of my life. I was living under apartheid in North Carolina. We lived under police terror.”
It is interesting to note that the US government harbors some of the most notorious terrorists including Santiago Alvarez and Luis Posada Carriles. Santiago Alvarez is the founder of Alpha 66, a Miami-based anti-Castro domestic terror group that operates a terror training camp in the Florida Everglades. Alpha 66 has been linked to a series of bombings and assassinations in the Miami area during the 1970s and Alvarez is responsible for a 1971 motorboat strafing attack on a Cuban fishing village that killed two men and wounded four people, including two small children. Luis Posada Carriles who lives in Miami, Florida is the notorious terrorist who is responsible for the bombing of the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 in which 78 people including 11 Guyana scholars were killed on October 6, 1976. Many of the people killed during that terrorist attack which was masterminded by Carriles Posada were teenagers. The young Guyanese were between 17 and 19 years old on their way to Cuba on scholarships to study to become medical doctors. The 24 young Cubans were members of the 1975 national Cuban under 15 fencing team who were returning home after having won gold medals in the Central American and Caribbean Championships competition. The flight left Guyana for Cuba, stopped in Trinidad where the terrorists boarded the flight. They left when the plane landed in Barbados after planting the bomb. When the plane lifted off from Barbados the bomb exploded. Although Posada Carilles is implicated in several acts of terrorism the bombing of the Cubana Flight 455 was the worst act of terrorism aboard a commercial airline in the Americas until the plane that brought down the twin towers on September 11, 2001.
It seems that the American government has signed Assata Shakur’s death warrant with a two million dollar bounty on her head while they harbour known terrorists. What a shame!


She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she's the reason you wish you were an only child. From “No Friend Like A Sister” published by Barbara Alpert in 1996
I have been thinking about Barbara Alpert’s words as I reminisce about growing up with three sisters especially one who is just a year and four months younger than I am and in many ways fits Alpert’s definition. My reminiscing is ongoing but over the past month there has been more of that because one of my sisters has a special celebration planned for the end of this month.
My sister April is celebrating her birthday (a significant milestone this year) on Saturday, April 27. Ideally this birthday party should have been a surprise party planned by April’s husband, daughter and son but in my family a surprise party would never work. So April has marshalled her troops and is planning this party with the kind of expertise that would be the envy of a skilled army commanding officer. Everything has been planned down to the last detail including choice of the banquet hall, decorations, seating arrangements and even the colour scheme for the guests. That’s right Ms April has decreed that we all have to wear white, gold or white and gold. Now when this edict came down to me I was tempted to resist. For a few minutes I pictured the consternation that would ensue if I turned up at the party wearing my fire engine red mini dress with matching five inch heel shoes. However that rebellion only lasted a few minutes in my imagination. I do not own a fire engine red mini dress or any kind of mini dress and just looking at five inch heel shoes makes my knees and my back hurt. Although I did have a similar outfit more than twenty years ago.
There will be relatives arriving in Toronto from across North America to attend this gala occasion. I have not heard that any of the relatives from the Caribbean, Europe or South America will be attending the bash. But never say never! As sisters (and brothers) growing up in a tight knit family unit with a strict police officer father sometimes the nine of us banded together in (subtle) resistance. The closeness of the nine siblings was also helped by the fact that we were grounded in the philosophy that your brother and sister were more important than anyone outside of that unit. Another factor was the constant movement of the police officer families in Guyana at that time. Some families chose to remain in one location while the father would transfer to various police stations across the country. In our family we packed up bag and baggage and moved wherever my father was transferred. In spite of the fact that my mother lamented the inevitable broken dishes and some furniture that resulted from each move, move we did! So many moves did not facilitate lasting friendships so we nine were each other’s best friends for many years until we were older teenagers. As I witness this mature take charge April in party planning mode I cannot help but remember the 21 year old (wearing a size 2 dress) who arrived at Pearson International Airport more than two decades ago. I will not make much comment on her dress size now just to say that it has matured right along with April. And just to prove how much my sister has matured she has incorporated an African theme in the birthday party thanks to the influence of her daughter’s Ghanaian friend. This is going to be a wonderfully successful celebration. After all, the all grown up mature April is in charge!
I may have thought for a few minutes about rebelling against the imposition of the white/gold theme my sister instituted but I would not have done anything to spoil her special night. I am sure that if I did not have or could not afford to buy a white dress for the special occasion April would not be standing at the door of the banquet hall armed with a flaming sword or even an ordinary cutlass barring my entrance. Our sister bond nurtured by our parents decades ago is too important. A 2009 research study done by a professor from the Psychology Research Institute of the University of Ulster found that having good relationships with your sisters is important to your mental health. Psychology professor Dr. Tony Cassidy and his team tested the emotional well-being of 571 people aged 17 to 25. Some had only sisters or brothers, some had both and others were only children. They found that those who had at least one sister were more optimistic, less stressed and better at coping with life's troubles. Cassidy gave this explanation for their findings: “Our explanation for it is that the presence of girls opens up channels of communication and it becomes a much more expressive situation and that's positive. Emotional expression is fundamental to good psychological health and having sisters promotes this in families.” The researchers found that both men and women benefitted from having sisters whether they grew up in a two parent or single parent home. Cassidy presented the findings of the study at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in Brighton, United Kingdom (UK) on April 2, 2009.
I am very thankful that I grew up in a home with three sisters (and five brothers.) Although I do respect the expertise of the psychologists I also value the experience of growing up in a home with my brothers. I am sure that their presence also contributed to my “good psychological health” and healthy self-esteem. However this article is about sisters and especially about my sister April’s upcoming birthday bash. Happy birthday April and my best wishes that you live to see many many more!


One of the most important books and television series ever to appear, Roots, galvanized the nation, and created an extraordinary political, racial, social and cultural dialogue that hadn’t been seen since the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book sold over one million copies in the first year, and the miniseries was watched by an astonishing 130 million people. It also won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Roots opened up the minds of Americans of all colors and faiths to one of the darkest and most painful parts of America’s past. From the website of the “Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center”
On April 18, 1977 the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism was awarded to African American author and journalist Alex Haley for his ground-breaking work which resulted in his 1976 published book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” Born Alexander Murray Palmer Haley on August 11, 1921, in Ithaca, New York Haley spent his first five years living in Henning, Tennessee from where the inspiration for Roots began. During the years Haley’s family lived with his maternal grandparents in Henning, Tennessee his grandmother often told him about their family’s history in America and Africa. That history went back several generations to a man she called "the African." She said he had lived across the ocean near what he called the "Kamby Bolongo" and had been out in the forest one day cutting wood to make a drum when he was attacked and kidnapped by four men who beat, chained and dragged him aboard a slave ship which took him across the water to lifelong enslavement in America. This enslaved African ancestor maintained knowledge of his African name despite brutal beatings to accept the name given to him by his White enslavers. In the television series that was made from the contents of Haley’s book “Roots” Kunta Kinte is brutally beaten until he says the name “Toby.” That scene always brings me to tears of anger and sadness. Haley was fortunate to have information that would eventually lead to finding some of his African origins. His family maintained their connection to Africa through a few words that as an investigative journalist he could eventually trace back to the African continent. Most Africans in the Diaspora are not that fortunate. Our names were brutally beaten out of our memories. In most cases the names did not survive the first generation of enslaved Africans. The furthest back that I can go in my family is to my paternal great grand-father whose name Kelly Murphy Jonas was most likely given to him and his ancestors by an Irish slave holder. Those names still exist in my family where there has been at least one Murphy in each generation since my great-grandfather. My father’s middle name is Murphy as he was named after his grandfather, my first name is Murphy (only female in my family with the name) and my cousin a few years older is Clinton Murphy Williams. So far I do not know which ancestor in that line was dragged kicking and screaming out of Africa. There were tens of millions who suffered that fate. In South America where I was born and in the Caribbean Islands some were worked to death within five to seven years so never had an opportunity to pass on words from their language that could be traced back to a specific region on the African continent. However some of the language did survive because the White slaveholders after working the enslaved Africans to death had to keep a steady replacement supply so kidnapped Africans from the continent were taken to the Americas in a steady stream.
When African Trinidadian professor Maureen Warner-Lewis author of the 1996 published “Trinidad Yoruba: From Mother Tongue to Memory” was doing research for her book in the 1960s and 1970s she met with people who remembered that their parents or grandparents were from the African continent. In a lecture entitled "African Heritage in the Caribbean" which took place at the National Library in Port of Spain on 7th March, 2007 professor Warner-Lewis mentioned some of the words from various places in Africa which have survived in the Diaspora. The game 'warri' which originated in the area which is present day Ghana, 'susu' from the Yoruba word, 'esusu' is a banking system where there is a rotation of money pooled by a group of people to a central banker and each person who “draws a hand” receives a lump sum of money. Other words mentioned were 'anansi' the spider, 'jumbie' (a ghost), maribole (yellow wasp) and 'kaiso' (Ibibio for 'well-done.) There are words that many of us have heard like nyam and foofoo. Here the late Louise Bennett Coverly explains about the number of African words heard in the Jamaican language including talawa, oonoo and boonoonoonoos, Miss Lou edutained Jamaicans about their African heritage.
African Americans and other Americans were edutained by the television series “Roots” which was first televised on February 18, 1979 and ran for seven consecutive nights where an estimated 130 million Americans watched at least part of the series and the final episode was reportedly seen by upward of 80 million viewers. The final episode of Roots was the most-watched television show of its time with seven of the eight episodes on the A.C. Nielsen Company’s list of the 10 largest television audiences in history. The show lit a spark among Americans who began to research their roots. African Americans who had never thought about their connection to Africa realised that they had a connection and did think about how they became Americans. By 1986 more than 6 million of the hard cover edition of Roots had been sold and it had been published in 37 languages. The television series Roots won three Emmy Awards, for outstanding limited series, for direction and screenplay.
Ten years after the Roots saga was aired journalist Lewis Beale interviewed some of the cast members of the Roots miniseries. In the interview which was published in the “Los Angeles Daily News” on January 29, 1987 LeVar Burton who played the part of the young Kunta Kinte reportedly said: “I think the impact was more deeply felt on a sociological basis. It expanded the consciousness of people. Blacks and Whites began to see each other as human beings, not as stereotypes. And if you throw a pebble into the pond, you`re going to get ripples. I think the only constant is change, and it`s always slow. Anything that happens overnight is lacking in foundation. Roots is part of a changing trend, and it`s still being played out. In terms of roles for Blacks, for women, these things are cyclical.”
It has been 36 years since Roots the miniseries received rave reviews and since the author of the book which inspired the miniseries received the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. Since then there have been some successful television programs (situation comedies) like The Cosby Show, A Different World and others that even though criticized by some did show African Americans in a mostly positive light. There were others that were so stereotypical it was an embarrassment to watch them. How much television portrayal of African Americans has improved (if it has) since Roots depends on your point of view. At last glance there were no sitcoms with any significant African American cast.